•Are habitual offender laws targeting the right people for incarceration? Why or why not?•Should individuals who commit misdemeanors, regardless of their status, be subjected to lengthy prison terms? Why or why not?•In your opinion, what standards should govern whether defendants are prosecuted as habitual offenders? Explain.
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Habitual offender laws, when narrowly tailored, can target the right individuals. For example, laws that focus on habitual drunk drivers do punish those individuals who repeatedly offend more harshly, as the law should. Laws that provide enhanced penalties for individuals who commit a violent felony when the person has a previous conviction for a crime of violence target the right individuals. Statutes that provide enhanced penalties for drug dealers or gun offenders are also specific enough to target individuals who deserve an enhanced or mandatory sentence. There are, however, habitual offender statutes that are overly broad that result in unduly harsh sentences, usually known as three-strikes laws. Because three-strikes laws tend to encompass a broad array of offenses, there are circumstances under which a person could break into a vacant house and end up with a life sentence due to previous convictions.For the most part, misdemeanants should not be subject to overly long prison terms, although what constitutes "lengthy" is subjective. It does not seem unreasonable for an individual who repeatedly drives while intoxicated and continuously placing others at risk to be subject to a longer prison sentence than a first-offender. However, that person should not be subject to a penalty similar to that of someone who committed murder. Such a sentence should be appropriately reflective of that person's disregard for the law but also proportionate to the offense committed.The standards by which habitual offenders should be governed should be narrowly tailored to ensure that the individuals who deserve enhanced or mandatory sentences are given them. For example, a habitual offender tag should only be applied to individuals who commit the same type of offense, such as DUIs, violent felonies, or gun crimes. It should not be applied generically to all felons or all misdemeanants. A habitual offender statute should also include time limits so as not to encompass an individual whose prior offense occurred decades earlier; someone who has two offenses over a period of thirty years is not enough to show a "habit". Thus, habitual offender statutes can be useful if they are narrowly drawn to encompass only those individuals who truly are habitual offenders.
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